Black Hollywood Education & Resource Center Remembers the Port Chicago Blast 70 Years Later

Port Chicago 1944  70th Commemoration observed by
Port Chicago 1944
70th Commemoration observed by

On Saturday, July 19, the Black Hollywood Education and Resource Center (BHERC) will commemorate the 70th Anniversary of the 1944 Tragic event in Port Chicago in Northern California. Do you know the Story…

In 1944 when America was at war, the majority of the seamen assigned to load munitions onto Liberty ships in this country were black. For the black Navy recruits, it was their dream to serve this country as sailors and be trained to go to sea. That did not happen. Instead, some of the men feared for their lives on their own home land because of racial prejudice. With dreams deferred and the prevailing discriminatory attitudes of the Navy during that time, the black seamen were assigned to do either menial labor or dangerous work such as loading ammunition without proper training at the Port Chicago Naval Weapon Station.

On July 17, 1944 at 10:18 pm, two explosions, with a force equal to the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, nearly leveled the Port Chicago area. Two military cargo ships loaded with ammunition and the entire Port Chicago waterfront (located in the East Bay area outside of San Francisco) vanished. Three hundred and twenty men died from the blast, 202 of them – black men. Hundreds of others were physically and emotionally injured for life. The cause of the blast was never determined. Because a majority of the men were black, the military at the time, changed the death benefit from five thousand dollars to two thousand and finally three thousand dollars.

After spending several weeks picking up the remains of their fellow seamen, the surviving black sailors were ordered to return to work on August 9, 1944 to load ammunition at a nearby base (Mare Island) under the same unsafe working conditions that existed previously. Fearful that another blast might happen, 258 of the black seamen refused to go back to work. They fought for training or answers, but that did not happen and they were consequently imprisoned on a barge. Several days later, after being threatened with the death penalty, 208 of the black seamen agreed to return to work. The remaining 50 were charged with mutiny, an act punishable by death.

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Source: EURWeb

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